A terrible thing happened to all of America's first-rate movie actresses this week. It's a disease that takes hold before Oscar-nomination time and often strikes some of the most gifted of the gifted. It usually knocks them out of the race. They all dread it. It's called "Meryl Streep."
Streep unveiled her latest weapon of mass destruction the other night at the premiere of "The Manchurian Candidate" in Manhattan. She is superb playing the senator mother of a vice presidential candidate, a woman willing to do anything to prevail in a Machiavellian plot to brainwash and control someone getting close to the White House. Meryl's character is involved not with Communists as Angela Lansbury was in the 1962 original movie classic, but with good old U.S.-dominating big business!
"The Manchurian Candidate" has another "actor killer" in the person of Denzel Washington. He is so brilliantly troubled, determined, honorable and constantly beset in his leading role as a Gulf War veteran and as Meryl's antagonist that he, too, must strike terror in the hearts of fellow actors going for the gold. The "candidate," Liev Schreiber, is also sensational. This movie -- directed by Jonathan Demme, produced by Tina Sinatra and Scott Rudin, and written by Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris -- is frightening and suspenseful, even when some of it is far-fetched and underexplained.
After an exciting time in the theater sitting next to another great talent, Kathy Bates, I ambled over to the Metropolitan Club to find smiling Paramount chief Sherry Lansing and an upbeat Tina Sinatra. I wore a special orange shirt as a tribute to Tina's late father. Frank Sinatra loved orange. He also owned the rights to "The Manchurian Candidate," and he'd be proud of the way his child has brought this Richard Condon novel back to the screen and modernized it.
I saw Streep wrapped in the arms of one of her co-stars, the good-looking and sexy Jeffrey Wright. (He has a memorable small role in this movie and just scored an Emmy nod as the male nurse in "Angels in America.") Meryl unwound from her admirers to say hello.
I told her I saw flashes of the off-screen, private Meryl in the charming but ferocious character she plays. She uses her natural vivacity and quick wit, and a kind of dizziness, to make the woman appealing, even at her worst. Meryl nodded agreement and added: "You know, in studying politicians, I began to see that they just love what they're doing; they love themselves in the role; they can't resist themselves. That's how I tried to play her."
Go see for yourself if Meryl pulls it off.
I'm not sure this column deserves any credit for the following, but it is interesting to note that several weeks ago, the newly published "Clinton Presidential Center Cookbook," which benefits the Clinton Presidential Library, was ranked a modest 80,000 on Amazon.com.
Immediately after we mentioned it July 2, it shot up to 2,035. Or did Bill Clinton's "My Life," which has been No. 1 on Amazon since June 22 have something to do with dragging the cookbook up in its wake?
Perhaps in keeping with the political, conspiratorial aspects of "The Manchurian Candidate," the security force serving the premiere was intense. One exchange between theater patron and security man went this way:
"I'm waiting for a friend."
"Get off the street, you can't stand here."
"Do you have a badge?"
"Can you arrest me?"
"Do you have a gun? Can you shoot me?"
"Then don't tell me where to stand, in that tone of voice."
"Sorry. Get the ---- off the street, sir."